Maple- to stain or not to stain?

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Forum topic by Tooch posted 05-23-2014 09:59 AM 2508 views 1 time favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2012 posts in 2438 days

05-23-2014 09:59 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question maple stain finish poly lacquer gun cabinet

A student of mine is building a gun cabinet and used Maple plywood for the main box, with maple hardwood for the face-frame and doors. He is almost done with the build and will soon be moving on to the finishing. I told him to start thinking about color, so he stained a few test pieces but they all came out looking muddied and blotchy.

I know maple takes stain a little different that other hardwoods, but I don’t know how the plywood vs. hardwood will turn out. He was originally looking for something darker, but now is thinking straight poly based on the poor results of our test pieces.

Personally, I don’t like the “amber-ing” effect Poly has on bare maple. I’m afraid that if he uses Laquer to get a clear finish, by the time he’s done he’ll be higher than a Georgia Pine. He’s really put a lot of time/effort into this, and I’d hate to see him end up with a bad end-result based on poor stain/finish choice.

Does anyone have suggestions as to what to use or past experience finishing Maple?

-- "Well, the world needs ditch-diggers too..." - Judge Smails

21 replies so far

View killerb's profile


150 posts in 2961 days

#1 posted 05-23-2014 10:14 AM

I would suggest using the blotch control Charles Neil sells. Lots of info on this site about it. It does work exceptionally well. proper sanding goes a long way towards finishing well also.bob

-- Bob

View ChefHDAN's profile


1489 posts in 3412 days

#2 posted 05-23-2014 11:02 AM

+1 for a conditioner pre stain

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View rhett's profile


743 posts in 4230 days

#3 posted 05-23-2014 11:07 AM

A prestain conditioner, as killerb mentioned, is your best bet for getting maple to stain evenly. It will offer your student the best results with the least amount of drawbacks.

The cabinetmakers way, to get uniform color on blotchy woods like maple and poplar, is tint the topcoat. This will provide the most even color, but requires a bit more finishing skill.

Both will work provide quality results

Get your student to post their finished pics on LJ’s! Future craftsmen always motivate seasoned ones.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View kdc68's profile


2873 posts in 2839 days

#4 posted 05-23-2014 11:21 AM

+ 1 for a conditioner

Another option may be a washcoat of shellac, but may require a little experimentation to get the exact cut needed and not over seal the maple…

A gel stain may help with even penetration as it will sit on the surface (because of the viscosity) and not penetrate as deeply as a wipe on stain. Or avoid a stain all together and try a NGR dye as an alternative. Your student can adjust the color of the dye by increasing or decreasing the concentration. A dye penetrates more evenly than a stain.

Have plenty of sample boards and try the alternatives mentioned above. Prep the sample boards exactly as the cabinet was prepped (for example – sanding the sample boards through all the grits that the cabinet was sanded)

-- Measure "at least" twice and cut once

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2932 days

#5 posted 05-23-2014 12:21 PM

I built a TV shelving unit out of maple, and I had good results with a 1# cut washcoat of shellac, sanded back, then applied an aniline dye (dissolved in water, wipe on, wipe off). Once that was dry, I finished with shellac, but you could really use anything, provided you give the water from the dye plenty of time to dry. It was pretty easy, and the dye came out fairly even.

If the student does use a dye, make sure you stress that it doesn’t clean up easily like stain does. Wear nitrile gloves, old clothes, and put down plastic under everything. Dye is probably the hardest, if not near impossible, thing to get out of, well, anything.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View blackcherry's profile


3343 posts in 4385 days

#6 posted 05-23-2014 12:31 PM

General dye stain work wonderful on figure maple, good luck…BC

View CharlesA's profile


3387 posts in 2360 days

#7 posted 05-23-2014 12:57 PM

Depends on what look you’re after, but straight Arm-R-Seal does very little yellowing on regular maple and looks quite good, I think.

Oh . . . and I agree that the Charles Neil stuff does wonders if you’re staining.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View RogerM's profile


801 posts in 2962 days

#8 posted 05-23-2014 01:25 PM

From my experience, the best way to put striking color in maple is by water soluble analine dye. First choice is medium walnut. See next posting of curly maple cabinets made with maple plywood and solid wood face frames and doors.

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View RogerM's profile


801 posts in 2962 days

#9 posted 05-23-2014 01:29 PM

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View RogerM's profile


801 posts in 2962 days

#10 posted 05-23-2014 01:36 PM

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View Yonak's profile


986 posts in 2083 days

#11 posted 05-23-2014 01:40 PM

The maple plywood and the maple hardwood may take stain differently. Testing samples of both may indicate that you need a pre-stain for the plywood but not the hardwood.

Roger, those are some striking cabinets. Beautiful !

View Finisherman's profile


227 posts in 2412 days

#12 posted 05-24-2014 06:33 PM

I like your comment about “being higher than a Georgia pine” from lacquer. A good quality respirator and a well ventilated area, or better yet, a spray booth, can help to solve that problem. Is a waterborne finish an option here? If so, waterborne finishes give the best clarity of all, to the point of making darker woods seem “washed out.” Another advantage in using either lacquer or a waterborne finish lies in the fact that they can be tinted and sprayed onto the wood to achieve an even colour. Yonak is right about the stain taking differently on plywood vs. the solid maple. Test first, like you’ve been doing. Finally, based on the youtube videos that I’ve seen, Charles Neil’s pre-stain conditioner might be just the ticket, if you decide that staining is necessary

View ducky911's profile


237 posts in 3352 days

#13 posted 05-24-2014 07:09 PM

blotch control Charles Neil then dye——-stain has little effect on maple because of the density of the wood

With dye you can get any color you want. I really like antique cherry on maple

View blackcherry's profile


3343 posts in 4385 days

#14 posted 05-24-2014 08:22 PM

Roger M….NICE!

View hoss12992's profile


4160 posts in 2455 days

#15 posted 05-25-2014 03:58 PM

2 thoughts here that I have used in the past that turned out great. Woodcraft has a Amber tint that mixes with denatured alcohol that looks great for a lighter finish. Also minwax has a stain called Special Walnut, that is absolutely beautiful. Love using that one, and its not really dark, and would look great for a gun case. I prefer using that on our gun safes that we build. Poly top coat just sets it off. Good luck buddy

-- The Old Rednek Workshop

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